Friday, August 07, 2015

Preview : Wales v Ireland

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HoR pro logo greenSo here we are...seems like ages ago when these “warm-ups” were first announced, now they’re actually here and we get to watch the boys in green again. 

 

Back in mid-July I penned my general thoughts on how we should be approaching this World Cup...from fans all the way through the squad right to Joe Schmidt.  In short, I felt we need to believe we can go all the way, we need to strive for accuracy in every aspect of the game, and what needs the most work is our ability to adapt and grind out a victory in the final quarter when things haven’t entirely gone our way.

 

When I wrote that piece I made a point of not mentioning any individual players, because just once I didn’t want to be vulnerable to accusations of provincial bias.  Now we have actual players filling actual jerseys, those accusations are bound to come, but all I can do is do my best to make it clear that I am an Ireland fan first and foremost when they take the field.  Leinster players will be praised, Munster players will be criticised, but the reverse will also happen; basically I will call it as I see it and you can interpret my agenda as you will ;-)

 

OK...on to our 23 for Cardiff tomorrow.  If it wasn’t for Jamie “Wolverine blood” Heaslip lining out as skipper I’d call it an “Unfortunate With Injury XV”.  It’s a side littered with players who could easily have had a major say in our back-to-back Six Nations triumphs had they not been held back not merely by an injury but normally at the worst possible time.

 

Nobody will know this more than Felix Jones, who came a cropper in the last set of World Cup warmups and has worked hard to get his way back into contention and based on Joe’s selections of late is definitely on his radar.

 

Then we have two wingers in Andrew Trimble and Fergus McFadden who are well up there in contention for first XV inclusion once they can prove their fitness...we have an embarrassment of riches in wide men though Joe asks for specific things from this position so only those who meet these criteria will make the final cut.

 

In the centre there’s Darren Cave and Keith Earls - an intriguing combination indeed.  Both are trying to prove themselves in positions where they didn’t make their name but then again the same can be said for Messrs Henshaw & Payne...Joe’s selections in this area have been intriguing to say the least. 

 

Now, to halfback.  Eoin Reddan would probably be the presumptive back up to Conor Murray going into these warmups, but he needs a solid 50/60 minutes on Saturday to cement that billing by keeping a steady tempo going when we have the ball and making every bit of his experience count against Mike Phillips.

 

Then there’s Paddy Jackson.  No disrespect meant to anyone else in the Irish squad, but it has to be said that when it comes to the technicality of a specific position, we are most vulnerable at 10.  We all got nervous whenever Sexton took the field in a Racing jersey for just that reason.

 

Of course that’s not to say Jackson can’t (as much as I hate the cliché) “do a job” but it would be a different one to that when the Leinster returnee is on the pitch and our entire game plan would have to change accordingly.  But the Ulster man’s selection for this match supports my theory that he is Joe’s main man to start should Sexton be unavailable..in other words, unfortunate though it may be to be leapfrogged, Madigan would be wearing the 22 jumper regardless.

 

The front row is exactly that which started for the Wolfhounds back at the end of January, and despite the result they put in a decent shift together at scrum time.  It certainly wouldn’t do Jack McGrath in particular any harm to show he has a bit about him around the park as well given the uncertainty surrounding Cian Healy’s fitness and there is no doubt he has the ability.

 

In the second row, I’d be very surprised if our World Cup selection didn’t end up remaining as it was at the Six Nations, ie POC & Dev starting with Iain “NWJMB” Henderson in reserve.  But then there’s Donncha Ryan.  If plays with anywhere near the attitude and focus he did before his long-term spell on the sidelines then Joe will have no choice but to consider him for the matchday 23.  The fact he plays a more-than-decent 6 as well certainly won’t stand against him.  Headaches of the good kind for Joe in this area for sure.

 

Not that his task is easy anywhere on the park, not least the back row!  Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien will be front-runners but it has to be said Saturday’s starting flankers Murphy & O’Donnell have done everything that has been asked of them in the green jersey and they’ll be keen to do likewise this time around.

 

A lot of interesting names on the bench but the most interesting one is that of Michael Bent...some chatter out of Carton House seems to suggest he’s working his way back into contention so hopefully he’ll get some game time in the next few weeks to prove it on the park.  After a disastrous start here he has knuckled down and fashioned himself into a versatile prop which could make him all the more selectable come the end of the month.

 

Right....those are my preliminary thoughts on the 23...I could go into a lot more detail but I’d rather have a look at them actually playing before I do.  What about the Welsh?

 

Well I have to feel for them having an absolute stinker of a pool schedule in comparison to ours...the rugby gods certainly weren’t kind!  And going on reports of their “ironman” training schedule in the Alps it would seem they are quite rightly preparing themselves for a raft of potential close finishes.


 

Some interesting selections on their side...again I could harp on at length but instead I’ll focus on two positions in particular...first up I’m fascinated by the selection of James Hook at 10.  Delme Parfitt of WalesOnline says it all in a recent piece :

 

Does Hook really have a shout of making it? Or is he being slung in to plug a gap and protect the likes of Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland?”

 

Having flown Gareth Anscombe halfway round the world it seems a shame to waste this opportunity to have an early look at him but seeming they are protecting a “minor thigh injury”.  The implication behind that announcement was that he was due to start and given how selection history has gone all I can say is fair play to Hook for sticking around and putting on the jersey when asked.

 

Finally there’s Ross Moriarty.  He got our attention here in Ireland for a horror tackle on Luke McGrath in the Under 20s Six Nations - for England no less.  Now he has pledged for the Welsh and they are definitely keen to have a look at him.  Having seen him line out for Gloucester there is no doubt he continues to bring that level of aggression to his game...I just wonder if he’s what Gatland is looking for - we’ll have to see.

 

OK that’s enough for now.  Nothing left to do now but take in the action.   I have a feeling the Welsh may prevail in Cardiff by less than a converted try but with all the experimentation plus a southern hemisphere ref to appease it really is anyone’s guess how this one will go.


Bit of a bummer it’s not live on Irish TV - given this is arguably our best chance at making a big impact at the World Cup this isn’t exactly the ideal way to begin to get the wider public on board but what can you do.  I’ll be watching.  Bring it on. JLP

 

#COYBIG  #ShoulderToShoulder #TrustJoe #ekrissy

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